The House with No Foundation: Repentance and the Fall of Jerusalem in Luke 6:47–49

The parable of the two builders in Luke 6:47–49 offers an incisive call to take Jesus’s words seriously. Interpreters are divided, however, on the nature of the crisis described in the parable. Does the flooding stream which threatens the house represent general, this-worldly trials, or eschatological judgment? This paper argues for a third option: the parable of the two builders stands as a warning of the coming fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Support for this position can be found by analyzing the language of the parable. For Jesus’s audience (and Luke’s readers), the imagery of building a house on a foundation would naturally evoke stories about the construction of the Temple, while the house’s cataclysmic destruction alludes to its demise. This reading of the parable fits well with Luke’s special interest in the Temple and its destruction in 70 CE. Luke has both John the Baptist and Jesus predicting God’s coming judgment against Jerusalem, and this judgment formed the impetus for their call to repentance. The parable, however, adds an important caveat to these predictions: God’s judgment can be averted. In other words, if the people would respond positively to Jesus’s ethical teaching and call to repentance, they could avoid the coming destruction. Like both John the Baptist and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible before him, Jesus sought to forestall national judgment through his teaching. Through the parable of the two builders, then, Luke graphically illustrates two alternatives that Israel faced in Jesus’s day. The fate of Jerusalem and the Temple would be determined by the response of the nation to Jesus’s teaching.

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